A changing of the guard took place this week for Cumming’s municipal court.
Judge Charles Smith, who had served the court for nearly 22 years, was honored Tuesday night by the city council in light of his retirement from the post.
The next morning, Smith’s replacement, Richard Neville, was sworn into the post.
Municipal judges handle cases covering offenses committed within city limits.
During Tuesday night’s council meeting, Mayor H. Ford Gravitt presented Smith with a proclamation.
“Judge Smith has served the city well for many, many years,” Gravitt said. “He’s been a friend to all of us.
“He has been a tremendous asset to our judicial system to Cumming and Forsyth County and the state of Georgia for that matter.”
The 84-year-old Smith, who also spent 35 years as a defense attorney before becoming a judge, said serving the city had been an honor.
“Almost 22 years have gone by in a hurry,” he said. “Thank you [Mayor Gravitt] and the council for giving me a job to do and leaving me alone to let me do it.
“Not only that, but first thing I was told was, ‘We’re not a revenue-raising city, dispense justice.’ You don’t know how much that has meant to me through the years.
“Every time I took that bench, I could look at people … when they came before me, [and] they were presumed innocent … and all I had to do was think about being fair.”
Cumming Police Chief Casey Tatum said Smith set a good example for the department.
“He has been a fair person … to us [as police officers] and everybody involved,” he said. “He’s very knowledgeable and he’s going to be missed.”
Smith’s son, Chuck Smith, a captain with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, and daughter and son-in-law, Lynn and Donald Byess, attended Tuesday’s ceremony.
“I’m very, very proud of him,” Lynn Byess said. “I can honestly say he’s the fairest man I’ve ever known.”
Chuck Smith said his father encouraged him to become an attorney when he was young, but he decided to go in a different direction.
“He defended them, I handcuff them,” the younger Smith said. “That was always a family joke we had.”
While he may be retiring, Smith said he plans to stay active.
“I’m an entrepreneur. I’ve got a sign company going and I’m on the board of Citizens Bank,” he said. “I’ve got a couple of real estate deals, so I’ll stay busy.”
Neville, a partner at Neville and Cunat, brings 20 years of private law practice to the bench. This will be his first judgeship, although he’s been lead council on more than 50 cases.
During his swearing-in ceremony Wednesday, Neville said he hopes to live up to the example set by Smith and other city leaders.
“I’ve always said that when the city does something — whether it’s the aquatic center, the fairgrounds, city hall, the water treatment plant, whatever it is — you can feel confident that it’ll be done right and in a first-class way,” he said. “That was true of Judge Charlie Smith.
“I hope I can live up to the standard of excellence established by the city and its leaders.”